A lost review from 5 years ago: 12:54 to Asgard

I decided to look at the oldest drafts in my email, and apparently I wrote an essay-length review of 12:54 to Asgard after playing it. I don’t know why I didn’t publish it at the time, and I don’t remember much of the game itself (besides something with electricity and a heaven with clouds).

I decided to post it here so I can delete it from my drafts. I would definitely word things differently now but I thought it’d be more fun to post it unedited.

Old review from 2016

So I just finished 12:54 to Asgard by J Robinson Wheeler. It gave me a real mix of emotions as I played it, from frustration to joy.

I looked up some reviews of it, and I was shocked by the extreme negativity about this game. Wheeler waited 3 years to look at reviews of this game, and seems to consider it a big failure.

I think that the reviewer’s response to it was strongly colored by:

  1. The venue it appear in (IFComp), and

  2. The year it appeared (2010).

Because this game is an almost perfect (albeit buggy) late 90’s non-comp game.

The story

In this game, you play a grumpy repairman who has to fix a leak in the roof of a soundstage. Things go bad, and you make it to an afterlife, complete with Death and Charon. You are taken to an odd blend of Greek, Norse, and Judeochristian mythology. By passing a series of challenges and symbolic acts, you can reach an ending.

I am a huge fan of mythology, and this game hit up my favorite stories. Many of the reviewers, though, were not fans of the mythological view, especially the Christian view. As a Mormon, I appreciate games like this that treat Christian topics with respect. However, this game in no way proselytizes or even favors Christianity (if anything, Norse seems to take charge), anymore than, say The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M. However, I can’t be upset with people who don’t like Christian themes, because I didn’t enjoy the anti-Judeochristian themes of The Chinese Room and The Tenth Plague.

The puzzles

Because this game was released in IFComp, every review I read was from someone who used the walkthrough. The walkthrough is nothing at all like the way you should play the game. In the opening scene, you have dozens of strange objects to interact with, but once you start poking around, it’s clear what you need to do to go forward. I had one hiccup that I peeked at the walkthrough for, then moved on, skipping dozens of lines in the walkthrough.

What people missed is that the game has a mechanism that both allows you and requires you to replay the opening scene over and over again, and that the game gives you strong hints on what you (eventually) need to do.

However, the game does get unfair later on, but in isolated spots. I would recommend getting as far as you can, peeking at the walkthrough, then going forward.

Here’s an example of stuff in the walkthrough unnecessary to moving forward:

The walkthrough tells you to take socks with you, give them to death instead of coins, then give the coins to a beggar, together with a blanket. You can just forget the socks, give death the coins, and just give the beggar the blanket, and still get the white cloud of success over the sapphire turnstile.

The NPCs

The NPCs are the weakest part of the game, and Wheeler admitted that he had to scrap some plans at the last minute. The main NPC responds to almost nothing, and I couldn’t figure out why she was there. The other NPCs only respond minimally.

That’s why I mentioned the year. In 2010, bad NPCs are almost unforgivable. But in the late 90’s, these NPCs would have been acceptable, although certainly not cutting edge.

Implementation

The game is intricate and beautiful, but has numerous issues. None really affected my enjoyment of the game, though. For instance, some event text gets repeated after the event; some items can be in your inventory with the game text suggesting it isn’t; and some code text got printed for me.

I feel like Wheeler could have polished this really well, but from the reviews, it seems like the universe hated this game.

Conclusion

To me, this game is in the same category as So Far and Losing Your Grip, a beautiful old-school puzzlefest that is too hard for most people, but interesting enough to keep you moving.

If J Robinson Wheeler ever reads this, I just want to say that I loved this game (and ASCII and the Argonauts, First Things First, and Being Andrew Plotkin), and that I hope that one day you have time to go back and tweak the bugs, because it’s a real keeper. I always post about really good games, but I’ve never seen such a difference between the game quality and the reaction to it.

End of old review

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Interesting you had this review sitting there. This game was in the comp the first time I came “here” (to the comp with Leadlight, or this board with anything). I was too confused by the game to say much about it in the author’s forum. In that forum, I did say the following in a topic estimating the chances of various games winning the comp that year:

I think Under in Erebus and Asgard are both in the baffling category, but they can baffle from earlier on, and the walkthroughs, being a raw list of commands, won’t necessarily make the baffled feel any clearer about it. So I don’t know that they could power past the more transparent games.

Your comment about the walkthrough is probably telling, since I remember turning to it early, and feeling I just didn’t know what I was doing or what was going on.

-Wade

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I played this game (without a walkthrough) some years ago, but never finished it. It had some high points and I was very deep into it, but I just didn’t understand what was going on. I seem to recall being baffled by one particularly nasty maze. There didn’t seem to be any logic to it.

I think I got fed up around that point and got diverted onto other things. I always intended to return to it, as I hate to leave a game unfinished. It just hasn’t happened…yet.

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huh, re-reading my review of it now (heavy walkthrough use); apparently I liked the writing but found the implementation a mess? six out of ten is a neutral-positive from me though

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I haven’t played the game or read your review in 5 years, but I think I wouldn’t have been so strongly-worded now. I remember the game as having a lot of bugs, so the score you describe makes a lot of sense!

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